Jimmy Connors, playing abysmally until he was down, two sets to love, 2-5 and match point in the third, survived the second round of the French Open tennis championships today when Frenchman Jean-Francois Caujolle got what tennis players call "concrete in the elbow" and couldn't put the match away.
After 3 hours 14 minutes of agony, and some appalling play on both sides of the net, Connors avenged a two-set loss to Caujolle eight weeks ago in Monte Carlo, 3-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-1, 6-1.
Caujolle, a lanky left-hander from Marseilles, pathetically gave away a match he had in his pocket. To paraphrase an old Rodney Dangerfield gag, if you looked up "choke" in the dictionary, you'd find Caujolle's picture.
Connors, who has not played well since winning the World Championship Tennis playoffs in Dallas early this month, was dreadful for the better part of three sets.
He came to Paris a week early to practice and is fit and anxious to win the world's most important clay court title for the first time, but at the moment is far off form. He lost to Vijar Amritraj in the first round of the $500,000 Tournament of Champions at Forest Hills, N.Y., and has seldom played worse in a major tournament than he did for the first two hours today.
Caujolle, 28 and ranked No. 4 in France, had him dead and buried in the red clay of the center court at Stade Roland Garros, which was packed to its 17,000-seat capacity.
Playing steadily, safely and smartly, Caujolle mesmerized his fellow left-hander into scores of unforced errors and teased him into impatient frustration, just as he had in beating him on a similar court in Monte Carlo. f
Connors, every inch the competitor that Caujolle sadly is not, had looked forward to the rematch, even on the Frenchman's home ground. "It's kind of like falling off a horse -- unless you climb right back on, you're going to be afraid forever," said Connors, the No.3 seed here.
But after 1 hour and 57 minutes, when Connors shoveled his umteenth unforced forehand error into the net off a paceless ground stroke that Caujolle floated down the middle of the court, the Frenchman stood at match point leading, 6-3, 6-2, 5-2, 30-40, on Connors' serve.
As usual when he was behind, Connors went for broke, boring into the net behind a forehand approach shot down the line. Caujolle slightly rushed a backhand passing shot that he felt at first was wide, then thought would curve in. He started to the net to shake hands, but retreated as the ball went long.
That was as close to victory as he came. One hour 17 minutes later -- dismayed by his own collapse and the boos of the home crowd, which chided him for questioning too many line calls and for surrendering so listlessly -- Caujolle shook hands with the triumphant Connors and then smashed his racket to smithereens against a courtside drink cooler.
Reprieved on the match point, Connors won the next as Caujolle dumped an easy backhand into the net, early evidence of the nervous deterioration of his game that was to continue so ignominiously. Then Connors won the game with a drop shot, a tactic he discovered belatedly, then put to good use against an opponent who likes to play from behind the baseline and never comes to the net voluntarily.
Caujolle served for the match at 5-3 but the apple in his throat was firmly lodged and getting bigger. So error-free and easy earlier, he lost his serve from 30-15 by overanxiously hurrying a couple of passing shots and netting another simple backhand.
Connors -- his spirits lifted -- started attacking more confidently. He held serve at love for 5-5 and got on top for the first time as Caujolle played another nervous, sloppy game to lose his serve for 6-5.
Thereafter, it was no contest.
Caujolle -- who had controlled the tempo of the points up to that point by slicing his underspin backhand, occasionally pounding a topspin forehand, carressing every ball safely back and giving Connors no pace -- started making errors in ugly clusters.
On losing the third set, he angrily batted a ball far out of the stadium. Thereafter, he quickly became dispirited, semingly resigned to defeat.
The crowd, which had exhorted Connors to fight and make a match of it when he was at the brink of defeat, irritated Caujolle. He later said bitterly and petulantly that if his countrymen had supported him, he would have won.
Meanwhile Connors -- who had looked like the epitome of frustration for most of the first three sets, and turned the air blue with vile, self-deprecating language and gestures -- became more patient. Instead of trying to flog the first short ball in a rally, even if it was too low and sliding to punish, he took fewer risks, rallying with Caujolle until he got a better ball to attack.
Connors's narrow escape was the big story, but there were other notable developments.
John McEnroe, who is needed No. 2 to defending champion Bjorn Borg, defeated 20-year-old Per Hjertquist, one of several less effective Borg clones recently exported from Sweden, 6-4, 7-6, 6-0.
McEnroe, however, developed a nasty blister on the heel of his racket palm, the sort of ailment that can easily get worse. Added to the overtennised 21-year-old's other ailments -- a chronic sore back, and a lingering sprained ankle for which he is wearing a brace -- the blister does not bode well for his future in this tournament.
Chris Evert Lloyd -- who has won the Italian Open and helped the United States defend the Federation Cup after "unretiring" following a three-month vacation -- battered hapless Caroline Franch of France, 6-0, 6-0, then strongly hinted that she will enter Wimbledon next month as a "wild card."
Evert said she was completely satisfied with her recent concentration during matches. It was wandering concentration and dedication to tennis following her marriage to Englishman John Lloyd that had prompted her to retire in February, so her comments were taken as unofficial confirmation that she will play Wimbledon this summer after all.
Vitas Gerulaitis -- who barely survived the first round -- swamped fellow American Fritz Buehning, 6-1, 6-2, 6-1. The temperamental, 6-foot-5-inch Buehning, an aggressive player, suffered from terminal impatience on the slow clay, and didn't even last long enough to rack up his usual quota of fines for misbehavior.